At the foot of the Pisanino mountain
What can one do on weekends in Tuscany if you want to exercise and think you are in decent physical shape? Take two, or even better, four steps. Not along the coast or in the hills though. Too easy. The Apuan Alps is the place to be. For those who do not know, it is a mountain range located in the northwest of Tuscany and is part of the Tuscan Subapennines. The Forato, Sagro, Tamburo and Pisanino as well as the Pania della Croce are among the most significant mountains. I know that for a Sunday walker, reaching their peaks is not reasonably feasible, but getting to the foot of one or the other could be a nice achievement.
Experiencing this in the best possible way needed a good guide, (which we had), a small group of well-assorted people, and last but not least, decent weather, that is, neither too high temperatures nor downpours. We, three friends and a dog, did our part, in order to make this day in the middle of nature, cheerful and fun.
The excursion started from the old church of Gorfigliano, not far from the village of Gramolazzo in the province of Lucca. There, in the nineteenth century, an artificial lake carrying the same name had been built. Our goal was to reach those old pastures at the foot of Mount Pisanino, which were frequented decades ago by shepherds during the summer months.
I don’t know if the misleading name of the mountain Pisanino ending with “ino’”, (an endearment such as for the words “cutie” or “sweetie”), made us think that it would be a sort of stroll or light walk. It may also be that the herbs and flowers along the first two, three kilometres, together with the guides explanation on how to use them, have softened every warning signal. Next to the road, the laburnum or “golden rain” was there too, to welcome us with its beautiful yellow flowers hanging in clusters. The fact is that we thought we would reach our destination by walking in the pleasant warmth of a gentle sun on an equally benevolent path.
We took the last photos of the Pisanino mountain, with its green meadows clearly visible. These we wanted to reach, and after holding hands solemnly in a circle around a huge stone, we entered a beech forest, so imposing that we had the first doubts. Was it really an excursion as indicated by the guide, and not a simple walk? Who knows?
The trees were impressively tall and created an almost impenetrable shadow. Only here and there a shy ray of sunshine had managed to break through and bring light to a twig or some trunk. Whilst the birds chirping was part of the noises of the woods itself, our voices almost echoed. In the peace and total silence, time seemed to have stopped. The atmosphere instilled something I can’t really explain, but we had the feeling that simply being there demanded our deep respect of this truly special place.
After a few hundred metres, the guide left the reassuring unpaved road to climb a really steep path. It is true that we walked on a soft carpet of leaves, but it is also true that it was so thick that our shoes completely sank in. It almost felt like walking on wet sand at the waters edge, which makes every step quite difficult.
Occasionally we had to pass over or under a fallen tree as we tried to keep pace with the guide on the steep zig zag path, up and up we climbed. At some point, one or the other member of the group must have cherished the idea of going back. Our guide, in fact, explained very well where we were, and pointed out which direction we should take if somebody decided to return to the car.
The many small cairns along the way gave us strength, because they were a clear testimony of how many people had been here before us and had left a memory by adding a stone to the piles. We would certainly not give in! Only when we went back down did we find out that the guide himself had positioned them to indicate the safest route … In fact, while it seemed to us that our simple walk was in the middle of nowhere, we were infact on a real path, visible however only by expert eyes.
Finally, and to make a long story short, in the end we reached more or less the top of the hill, somewhat distorted. Once we left the woods we were right there at the foot of the Pisanino, with trees and pastures photographed from afar a few hours before. Mother nature had indeed created a suggestive and peaceful locality, using all possible shades of green, the colour of balance and calm, of hope and optimism, of life itself.
A few brushstrokes of pink from wild peonies hidden behind a large boulder topped up this somewhat unexpected but truly magnificent picture.
Then, finally it was time for lunch. Everyone had brought with him what he liked best. We would burn some more calories whilst walking back to our starting point, and that’s exactly what happened because walking down was probably more challenging than climbing up. Slipping on wet ground was unavoidable and we had to reckon with a few falls here and there too. Hardly said than done – only one person (me) fell onto the soft carpet of the leaves, which in the end felt almost like a caress, only almost though.
The way back continued without further hitches, except for a thunderstorm approaching quite menacingly behind us. Therefore, despite being really tired, we increased the walking speed considerably, and after saying goodbye to the flowers and trees along the path, we arrived at our cars just in time. The first drops in fact fell while we were driving the cars back down.
What did this experience leave with us ? I cannot speak for the other members of the group, but as for me, I am happy to have pushed my limits of physical endurance far forward. The Apuan Alps are no longer so foreboding as before. I brought back home their peace and serenity, and my dog was happy to have been an integral part of this adventure. Therefore, thanks to Mother Nature, to the cheerful group, and to our guide who enabled us to experience a special day, which will remain in my memories forever.